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Jun 30, 2010 08:36 AM

Your opinion on a diner/server incident

A solo diner goes into a restaurant without a reservation (before 6:00) and asks for a table for 4. She sits alone for 20 minutes, during which time several servers come by (one at a time) to ask if she wants to order anything ("perhaps an appetizer ?"). She declines each time, saying she is waiting for her friends. She also indicates that she doesn't know when or if they will arrive. Eventually, one server tells her that because of the reservations for the evening, they will need the table at 7:30, and as a result, the last time to put in an order will be 7:00. The diner replies that if her friends have not arrived by 7:30 (not 7:00), she will leave without ordering, and that she does not intend to order anything unless her friends arrive. The servers stop coming to her table.

The restaurant is heavily booked, and although there are numerous empty tables at the time, they are likely meant for reservations. In the meantime, a couple parties of 3 or 4, also without reservations, are waiting for a table to open.

What are your opinions on
[1] the diner holding the table with potentially no order
[2] the servers repeatedly asking the diner to order ?

My husband and I witnessed this recently (it was impossible not to), and we had completely opposite takes on this.

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  1. Things to note :

    - She should have been warned when she should leave the table (because of another reservation)
    - If she does not know IF they will come, the she should leave the table and wait at the bar (if available or take a walk around the block).
    - The maitre d'hotel/manager should boot her out of the restaurant because she's holding the table without eating/drinking just because maybe ...

    The client in that case is in the wrong.

    1 Reply
    1. While I usually dislike the rule of "The party will not be seated until half/all members are present" it could have been put to good use here.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Lixer

        I agree with both you and Maximilien. That client should not be holding a table that long!

      2. Seriously. Nobody had a mobile phone or offered one so the arrival could be confirmed?

        What happened? She just sat there for 90 minutes, not eating, not drinking, not reading, not checking email.. Staring? Like some homeless person?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cathy

          Seriously. There was no phone in the entire place?

        2. So did the other three people show up? How's the story end?

          Here's my take - First off if it was busy, the staff shouldn't have seated her without the rest of the people in her party there. If you ask for a table for four in a crowded restaurant without a reservation, most places will "offer" you a seat at the bar to wait. This was the restaurants error. That being said, the woman had some set not to at least order a drink. If the woman was a decent person, after 10-15 minutes, she would have got up and called her friends, telling them she had to give up the table and ask where the heck they were. Odd story, odd reactions on both ends.

          1. Additional details:

            [1] There was no bar.
            [2] The woman appeared to have no phone.
            [3] She was occasionally reading the menu.
            [4] Her 2 friends arrived around 6:40, and they ordered.
            [5] The restaurant was practically deserted at 6:00, and about half full at 7:00. It's the type of place where people start showing up around 7:00, and stay a long time after that.

            Maximilien, what would have been the appropriate time for the restaurant to inform the diner about the reservation ? When she was originally seated ?

            I've been in a party that arrived early in the evening without reservations, and were seated at a table meant for a late reservation. We wound up ordering so much that we "overran" our time, and into the reservation's time (which we were never informed of). While the staff never tried to pressure us, due to the layout of the room, we could see that they were frantically trying to figure out what to do. (This was in the type of place where a reservation meant you had the table for the whole night, which implied there should be no wait when you arrive.) Had we known about the reservation time, we probably would have planned our order a bit. But it was one of those places where they don't like to bother the guests like that.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dump123456789

              "Maximilien, what would have been the appropriate time for the restaurant to inform the diner about the reservation ? When she was originally seated ?"

              No, before, when the waiter checks what tables are available ... it usually goes like this :

              "We have a free table right now but there is a reservation at 19:30 is ok for you and your party ?"

              if yes, then there's an implicit social contract between the client and the restaurant saying that the client should order soon after being seated and the restaurant should serve the client as fast as possible (without rushing for the sake of rushing).

              If the client does not order within the first 30 minutes, I think it good manners for the waiter to try to get he client to order while reminding them of the later reservation and good manners for the client to re-think his position and either leave or order.